Thursday, January 30, 2014

Labor Day (Rhoades)

Front Row at the Movies

“Labor Day”
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Nicholas Sparks, watch out. Instead of his usual smart comedies (e.g. “Juno,” “Thank You For Smoking,” “Up In the Air”), director Jason Reitman gives us a heartbreaking romantic drama titled “Labor Day.”

As one moviegoer said, “It is a little like a Nicolas Sparks book except with Oscar level acting, directing, cinematography, and screen writing .…”

That translates as Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin being directed by Reitman in a film based on a book by Joyce Maynard.

“Labor Day” is currently playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Although mainly aimed at women, guys in the audience will like it too. The story’s about a tough guy who finds love.

Here we have an escaped convict (Josh Brolin) making a connection with the family he’s holding captive.

Adele (Kate Winslet) and her seventh-grader son Henry (Gattlin Griffith) have pretty much given up on their happiness after Adele’s husband abandoned them for a younger wife. But along comes a guy on the lam who highjacks the woman and her son at a discount clothing store, forces them to take him to their ramshackle farm home, ties them up to a chair, and then proceeds to lure mother and son into his own surprisingly emotional world.

No, we’re not talking Stockholm Syndrome. Adele is certainly needy, depressed, and lonely. And Henry wants a father. But they sense something more in Frank than hardened criminality or their own wish fulfillment.

After all, Frank makes a delicious (read: sensuous and gooey) peach pie. He teaches Henry how to play baseball. And while doing odd jobs around the house, he passes himself off as the family’s handyman ... but is obviously becoming more than that on that long Labor Day weekend in 1987.

Steadily, the film moves from “Desperate Hours” territory, closer to the landscape of “The Bridges of Madison County.” Or “Far From Heaven.”

Yet there is plenty of tension as we ponder the outcome. Is this man accused of murdering his wife dangerous? Are there dark secrets to be revealed? Will the cops catch this killer on the loose? What will happen to the mother and son?

This love story is narrated by a grown-up Henry (Toby Maguire), always the outsider looking in. Having become a successful baker, he’s there to give us the film’s sentimental, but satisfying denouement.

At times predictable, the film is also intimate and touching. Remember that it’s based on a same-named book by Joyce Maynard, the writer who lived with J.D. Salinger as a young woman. Among numerous books and essays, she wrote a syndicated column called “Domestic Affairs.” She penned “Labor Day” in 2009, a coming-of-age story that Reitman snapped up for his fifth feature film.

“Some people don’t want to feel uncomfortable,” he says. “And perhaps they’re only going to understand the movie once they’ve had a conversation with a friend about it. This is the kind of movie where it’s not just going to settle immediately. You don’t walk out the door and go, ‘Yay! I wanna go buy the t-shirt,’ you know? I think for some it might be a couple days of talking to your friends who have also seen it or convincing your friends to see it so you can talk about it.”

As it turns out, “Labor Day” is a gorgeous mood piece. The cinematography by Eric Steelberg makes each image look like a Hallmark card. In fact, the film veers awfully close to becoming a Hallmark TV movie. But Jason Reitman carefully brings it in as an art film, deserving of our applause for Winslet and Brolin’s performances.

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